MT VOID 01/12/18 -- Vol. 36, No. 28, Whole Number 1997

MT VOID 01/12/18 -- Vol. 36, No. 28, Whole Number 1997

@@@@@ @   @ @@@@@    @     @ @@@@@@@   @       @  @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
  @   @   @ @        @ @ @ @    @       @     @   @   @   @   @  @
  @   @@@@@ @@@@     @  @  @    @        @   @    @   @   @   @   @
  @   @   @ @        @     @    @         @ @     @   @   @   @  @
  @   @   @ @@@@@    @     @    @          @      @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 01/12/18 -- Vol. 36, No. 28, Whole Number 1997

Table of Contents

      Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent or posted will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Noise on the Line (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

We are now finding out how much Abraham Lincoln relied on the telegraph getting his news of the Civil War just as the battle was occurring. But he said that he never understood why Grant's dispatches always ended with the same nonsense string of characters colon-minus-close_parenthesis. [-mrl]

Mini Reviews, Part 2 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In my last mini-review column I explained why I get to see films submitted to the On-line Film Critic Society for award consideration. Some of these films will show up at in popular film theaters, some in art houses, maybe some on Amazon Prime or NetFlix. But frequently nobody yet knows where and when the movies will become available. Getting a film reviewed is part of the process of selling the film to a distributor. It is like getting inspected a house you intend to buy. But at least these reviews will give my impressions. Each film below is rated on my -4 to +4 scale.

Two wealthy couples have a very luxurious dinner while they discuss their family's problems. Their problems involve mental illness, but it takes a while to get specifics. They want to decide what should their reaction be after a boy from each immediate family was involve in a terrible incident. The viewer does not know what the incident was an it takes a long time before the viewer gets enough clues to realize who is who and what has happened. Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) is running for Governor of his state and he tries to be the leader of the two families. He is continually stymied by his cynical and annoying younger brother Paul (Steve Coogan). THE DINNER really has a powerhouse cast including Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall, and Chloe Sevigny. The film is intentionally confusing as the audience finds out bit by bit what had happened. The characters keep being interrupted, stretching the film out to a full to hours. Coogan is good for his role, but listening to his rants may be the most painful thing the viewer will do all day. To some degree the narrative is stretched by documentary footage about the Battle of Gettysburg. (Paul is a history teacher planning to write a book about the battle.) Oren Moverman, who directs from a script he based on the novel by Herman Koch, could have asked his actors to enunciate more clearly. The film also uses overlapping dialog, further obfuscating some of the speeches. This is a film requiring some patience, but if one waits long enough she or he will be pulled into the moral can of worms the families face. Then again, he or she may be seduced by to descriptions and images of the marvelous food. This film is available from either of the NetFlix services. Rating: low +1

This film is based on a true story that pitted xenophobia against xenophilia in the household of Queen Vitoria. Abdul is a Muslim living in Agra almost in the shadow of the Taj Mahal. He is chosen to take part in a ceremony of the gratitude of the Indian people for the Queen. As a foreigner Abdul is bewildered by the absurd etiquette required of people dealing with the Queen. However, Victoria notices the tall, handsome Abdul and she chooses to get to know him. Each develops confidence in the other, and the two open up to each other. Abdul's self-taught erudition impresses the Queen and they begin to spend more time together. The very elderly Victoria begins act years younger and to feel more alive. The household sees no profit in having Victoria befriending Indians, whom they feel are an inferior people. The court does what they can to break up the friendship. Victoria is fascinated by foreign customs and remains loyal to Abdul. Stephen Frears directs from a rather pat screenplay written by Lee Hall based on a book by Shrabani Basu. The film is above average, but is too obviously moralizing polemic, preaching only to people already convinced. A little more subtlety and complexity to the story would have made it a better film. It is good to see Dame Judi Dench still present and acting. Apparently she cannot study printed scripts and when she performs she must have her lines read to her with a Miracle Ear. But it works and her performances do not seem to suffer. Rating: high +1

I have to say that I like history films that recreate some historic decision and all the arguing that came before the decision. We have had films like LINCOLN and SPOTLIGHT not long ago. This year we have Steven Spielberg's THE POST, Christopher Nolan's DUNKIRK, and Joe Wright's DARKEST HOUR. The latter is about Winston Churchill. Britain has been pulled into the European war somewhat before it was ready. The whole British army is on the beaches of Calais and Dunkirk surrounded by the German army where the Germans are picking it off the British Army at their own pace. Once the German army gets around to it, it will drive the English into the channel. The situation is catastrophic. Churchill arranges the Dunkirk evacuation. Now Chamberlain and Halifax want to take up Mussolini's offer to mediate between Hitler and Churchill on a possible peace. Of course today we have a good idea how faithful Hitler might have been to any treaty with Britain. Joe Wright directs with Gary Oldman playing Winston Churchill. The result of Oldman made up to look like Winston really does not look like either. Rating: +2


NEW YORK 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (copyright 2017 Orbit, 2017 Hachette Audio, 624pp, 22 hours 34 minutes, ISBN-10: 0316262315, ISBN-13: 978-0316262316, ASIN: B01NAM793D, narrated by Suzanne Toren, Robin Miles, Peter Ganim, Jay Snider, Caitlin Kelly, Michael Crouch, and Ryan Vincent Anderson) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):

After I read Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy what seems a half a lifetime ago, I didn't read a novel by him until 2312. I did try to read THE YEARS OF RICE AND SALT, but after 80 or so pages I couldn't go one any further and put it down, never to pick it up again. I returned to Robinson's work with 2312 and AURORA, skipping SHAMAN, which was not my cup of tea. I eyed NEW YORK 2140 with a sideways glance. I wasn't sure that I wanted to read it, thinking that once again it might not be for me, but man did it sound interesting. The deal was sealed when Robinson appeared on The Coode Street podcast; his descriptions of the book and how he went about researching it and putting it together were enough to get me to pick it up and give it a try.

NEW YORK 2140 is not a novel in the usual sense. There is no real plot, although there are several events that are strung through the book that actually do have a beginning, middle, and end. There are also characters that the reader follows from the beginning of the novel to the end of the novel, and their lives do intersect because those previously mentioned events do intersect and overlap. And there is conflict, but not the sort of conflict a reader is used to seeing in a novel that is structured in a typical fashion. Even the title is a bit misleading, as the novel starts in 2140 but ends a few years later after the events that are recounted within are complete. What NEW YORK 2140 does provide, as does 2312, is a snapshot, a snapshot of a few characters within one of the largest and most well-known cities in the world as they--and the city--go about their daily lives.

You'd be right to ask, "Why should I care about New York in 2140?". Well, it's under 50 feet of water. To be fair, not all of it is under 50 feet of water, but most of it is. In fact, the book itself answers the question of why you should care about New York instead of any of the other coastal cities that are under water. Back to this in a bit.

Or maybe not. It's really a difficult novel to describe. Structurally, the novel is broken into parts, and each part has subsections that follow individual characters--or, in two cases, a couple of characters. There is also an additional subsection for a character called "The Citizen". Robinson is famously known for liberally sprinkling infodumps throughout his books, and NEW YORK 2140 is no exception. While infodumps are spread everywhere throughout the book--and I'll have to say I didn't mind them in the least, as they were in my opinion well done, informative, and entertaining--the best of the lot come in the sections featuring The Citizen. It is in these sections that the reader learns about the two events--The First Pulse and The Second Pulse--that put NYC and the other coastal cities under water. What's more, we learned how the Pulses came about in wondrous detail that should, but won't, convince any climate change denier that we have really screwed up this planet and we'd better do something about it yesterday. The Citizen doesn't just tell us about how NYC got to be in the state it's in ecologically, he tells us about finance as well, how the Pulses affected the global economy, and how current (to the novel) solutions to the problem are no different than what was done in the past. It's very clear throughout the book that Robinson has done his research. As a side note, and in bits that most readers may not enjoy but I found amusing, The Citizen, a snarky resident of NYC, refers to the text of the book itself, letting his audience know that he knows what he's saying is being read, and is giving those same readers permission to skip these sections if they want to, while at the same time letting them know that they're going to be ignorant of many facts if they skim through his parts.

The thing that is fresh about this novel is that while it is a post-disaster novel, it doesn't dwell on the disaster (or in this case disasters). The point is not the disasters--the point is how a subsection of society deals with the nasty hand it's been dealt. Robinson also lets us know that it really is all about money. Yes, there is climate change which will lead to disaster. But money, really, makes the world go around. Nearly all of the characters have either something to do with finance or are affected by those that have something to do with finance. A major plot (there's that word here) point involves how to manipulate the global economy in the aftermath of a hurricane that hits New York.

The characters here are secondary. I don't think Robinson means for the reader to be enamored of these characters at all. I don't think there's any character that grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and made me pay attention to him or her--although I did feel sorry for the two kids that continually did stupid things and got into trouble for them. This, like 2312, is a story about ideas, but ideas based in reality, ideas that we could find becoming a reality if we're not careful.

Back to one point I made earlier, about why we should care about New York and not any other coastal city. Don't skip The Citizen sections. And don't skip any of the rest of the sections either. They're too good to pass up.

This is the first audiobook I've listened to that has more than a couple of narrators. There are seven of them, and they are all wonderful. While I haven't taken the time to learn which narrators performed which sections (although it's a safe bet that the female narrators did the sections centering on the females, and the same with the males of course), I'm really partial to the guy that performed The Citizen. This was a great cast performing a great book. [-jak]

ABE AND PHIL'S LAST POKER GAME (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Abe Mandlebaum (Martin Landau) has moved with his wife to a senior living center. He becomes friends with another resident, Phil. The two compete to win the affections of a nurse to whom they are attracted and another nurse long ago orphaned who has unfinished business with the past. The script intertwines two plots, one a moving drama on aging and one a sort of geriatric sex comedy. The film has its moments, but is it the film Martin Landau deserved as his farewell performance? Howard Weiner directs from his own screenplay. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

It should be remembered that barring other films waiting to be released, this will probably be the final film of a great actor. Martin Landau died last July 15 (at age 89). He had a long and impressive career. In 1959 he played a (probably) gay henchman of a master spy played by James Mason in NORTH BY NORTHWEST. He played the central character in Woody Allen's best film (in my opinion), CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. He played Bela Lugosi in ED WOOD. Now his final film is ABE & PHIL'S LAST POKER GAME.

As the film opens, Dr. Abe Mandlebaum (Martin Landau), is leaving his last home, and going to live in a senior living center to be near his wife Molly who suffers from dementia. Abe knows the move is necessary, but it is a blow to his dignity to be forced to live with other elderly people. He grasps at shreds of his self-esteem by correcting anyone who calls him "Mister" and insists he be called "Doctor."

Soon Abe meets Phil (Paul Sorvino, aged 78), who brags about the large number of women he has slept with. The two discuss at length their sex lives and how much they hate their current dysfunction. The film takes on some of the aspects of a teen-age sex comedy. They are both befriend a nurse, new to the center, who it turns out has a hidden agenda. The two balance these youthful urges against their acceptance of aging and the inevitability of death. Abe compromises his dignity and talks on Phil's level about his attempts to rekindle the dying flame of sexuality.

The story has vulgarities that seems unlike Landau's usual screen persona. On the other hand, we get very few movies about the aged living out the last chapters, or perhaps paragraphs, of their lives. The subject of they elderly is rarely treated in films, much less if the subject is elder sexuality. The treatment of either sex or death and the elderly is not a topic likely to attract a wide audience.

Are Abe's and Phil's observations on sex and death credible? They seem to be. But ask me again in twenty years and I will have a better idea. Currently I rate ABE & PHIL'S LAST POKER GAME a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. The film will have a limited release beginning January 12.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


CRAZY FAMOUS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Bob Marcus believes that a life lived in obscurity is not worth living. Bob's goal in life is simple. He wants his name to be a household word. He tries a stunt that is calculated to make news reported all across the nation. All he succeeds in doing is having himself committed to a mental facility. There he finds his fellow detainees are real screwballs but he also finds a new chance to become famous. This is a low-budget comedy with screwball characters, something rarely seen in such an economical film. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Electronic media have changed the world so that people can become celebrities in hours. This also means that fame-seekers who want to draw attention can do so in minutes. The social networks allow people who want to attract attention a venue to broadcast their questionable views. Our main character has his own quest for fame. But that is not really all this film is all about.

Gregory Lay plays Bob Marcus, the man who would be famous. As the film starts he is executing a plan, with the aid of a trampoline, to jump the fence into the President's Camp David retreat. Won't that make him famous? No, it just gets him committed to a mental facility. Perhaps this fame stuff is elusive. The patients seem just a little more rational than the patients in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST. Bob is one of four patients who form a little (just a little) dysfunctional group. Yes, the main character has a mania to become famous, but that mania will put him with three other eccentric friends on a quest with startling results. The jokes are a bit hit or miss, but it is limited by the budget of the film. Not many films could deliver this much humor on this small a budget.

None of this could be confused with any sort of realistic portrayal of real mental derangement, but people who are deranged are one of the last minorities whom it is acceptable to lampoon. Some of the humorous bits really are humorous bits and if there are not enough it is at least in part because the film runs a brief 78 minutes. There are moments that are reminiscent of Arthur Hiller's THE IN-LAWS. The film would be better with more such moments, but I will take what I can get.

The film feels a bit incomplete and imperfect, but it is a first feature film written by Bob Farcas. The director is Paul Jarrett.

I rate CRAZY FAMOUS+1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. CRAZY FAMOUS was released on DVD January 9th.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


THE GIFTED (television review by Dale Skran):

Fox has a new "X-Men" TV series that is loosely connected to the various X-men movies. The premise seems to be that "the X-men have disappeared" and a motley band of mutants carry on the fight against "Sentinel Services." It is left deliberately vague whether this TV series occurs before some of the movies, after them, or just on a different timeline. Sentinel Services has been using robots, although they have yet to appear in the series, but have recently turned to "hounds" - mutants enslaved via drugs and mind control - to hunt other mutants.

The general setup is that two young teenagers, Lauren Strucker (Natalie Alyn Lind, who you may recall as Silver St. Cloud in GOTHAM and as Dana Caldwell in THE GOLDBERGS) and Andy Strucker (Percy Hynes White), discover that they have mutant powers, air- based force fields and a kind of destructive telekinesis, respectively. After they destroy their local gymnasium, they come to the attention of Sentinel Services, and soon they are on the run with their non-powered parents, Reed Strucker (Stephen Moyer) and Caitlin Strucker (Amy Acker). Amy Acker is a fan favorite perhaps best known as for her portrayal of Ilyria, an "old god" from the TV series ANGEL. She was a recurring character in ALIAS as a bad girl spy, and also did stints in DOLLHOUSE and PERSON OF INTEREST.

One thing GIFTED does very well is subtly tie the story into the larger Marvel universe without using most of the well known Marvel characters. If you are a comic fan, you may have figured out that having the main characters named "Strucker" might mean something, and indeed it does. The series starts out as a kind of World War II Jews vs Nazis resistance story. Everything is grim, hopeless, and downbeat, with a lot of yelling and screaming. The first group of episodes is mostly depressing. Eventually Lauren and Andy find out that they are descendents of the original Strucker twins, sometimes known as Fenris, the Wolf. Alone each is dangerous, but if they hold hands, their powers are vastly increased. They now have to struggle with whether they wish to take up the mantle of their evil ancestors, or fight for good instead. Also, their combined powers are not especially controlled at this point, making them a weapon of mass destruction. Their parents so far as mostly trying to avoid the war and escape to Mexico, but one suspects that in time Lauren and Andy, or at least one of them, will embrace the war as the only path forward for them.

The main "X-characters" are Macros Diaz/Eclipse (can control light), Clarice Fong/Blink (can teleport), John Proudstar/Thunderbird (super-hunter and fighter), and Lorna Dane/Polaris (can control magnetism). Eclipse is created for the series, but Blink, Thunderbird, and Polaris are pretty much straight out of the comics. This Polaris is the daughter of Magneto, just like in the comics, and just like in the comics, she is a green-haired bargain basement Magneto, lacking his raw power. Another character from the comics - Sage - appears as the brains of the mutant underground using her computer-like brain and perfect memory to help them avoid Sentinel Services.

Spoiler Alert--Spoiler Alert--Spoiler Alert--Spoiler Alert

Towards the mid-season a new blond telepath is introduced, and it should not come as a big surprise that she turns out to be one of the Stepford Cuckoos, a hive-mind of identical telepaths straight out of the comics. This development takes the series in a new direction, as it turns out that the Cuckoos work for the Hellfire Club, and they want to use the Mutant Underground as a tool to destroy Sentinel Services.

All in all, THE GIFTED is reasonably entertaining Marvel spinoff, but for 13 and up due mainly to dark thematic elements. This is just a grim story with a lot of realistic fascism. Characters die. Betrayal is everywhere. The triumph of good seems distant. It can be hard to watch since it reminds us all of how easily our lives can be flushed away on a tide of paranoia and hate. However, now that things have had a chance to develop it is getting more interesting. [-dls]

The Traveling Money (letters of comment by David Goldfarb and Dorothy J. Heydt):

In response to Evelyn's comments on the puzzle involving the counterfeit bill in the 01/05/18 issue of the MT VOID, David Goldfarb writes:

Evelyn writes: "The Hatter finds a $50 bill. He went to the butcher and pays him the $50 he owed him. The butcher bought a pig from the farmer for $50. The farmer paid the carpenter $50 he owed him. The carpenter paid the King $50 in taxes. The King paid the Hatter $50 he owed him for a hat. Then the Hatter recognized the bill as the original $50 bill and realized it was fake. What was lost in this and by whom?"

I'm reminded of a Poul Anderson story called "Fairy Gold", which follows a very similar plot: a young man does a favor for Oberon, the king of Faerie. Oberon rewards the man with a valuable gold coin. The man uses it to purchase a passage to the New World; then the captain ... well, I don't remember exactly what the captain did with it; maybe he paid off his bar tab. But at any rate we follow the coin through a whole bunch of various transactions that cancel a bunch of debts; and in the end it comes to the young man's intended bride. She and he board the ship to enter their new life ...

... and with the dawn, the coin turns, as fairy gold turns, to a dead leaf that crumbles away. [-dg]

Dorothy J. Heydt adds:

There's also Asimov's "Gold", whose details I now forget, but a sum of money is invested and benefits a series of people in turn, and is later returned to the investor. Asimov, being a chemist, notes that gold is a catalyst, enabling chemical processes to proceed while remaining itself unchanged. [-djg]

Evelyn notes:

If anyone is interested, the story "Fairy Gold" appeared in the collections THE UNICORN TRADE, THE ARMIES OF ELFLAND, and DOOR TO ANYWHERE. "Gold" appeared in the September 1991 issue of ANALOG, and was collected in GOLD: THE FINAL SCIENCE FICTION COLLECTION and THE NEW HUGO WINNERS, VOLUME IV. [-ecl]

The NFA, Top Ten Films of 2017, and ORPHAN BLACK (letter of comment by John Purcell):

In response to Mark's comments on the NFA in the 01/05/18 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:

You know, 1996 was a good year for me. But you don't want to hear about that; instead, you want comments about the 1996th issue of MT VOID. So be it.

Once again, your little lead-in drips with sarcasm. This is a trend that I approve of. Like many people, I have no fondness for guns in the hands of the general public, and believe that any time is the right time to discuss the creation and implementation of reasonable gun laws in America. What the NRA and GOP have been doing is keep putting off this very necessary discussion as long as they possibly can while both entities reap vast financial rewards in the process. America is beyond the time for finding the "proper time to discuss firearms regulation." My guess is that they'll start saying "something" reasonable a month before the mid-term elections because that will make the NRA and GOP look responsible. Yeah, right... And monkeys might fly out of my butt. [-jp]

Mark replies:

I agree, but I am glad you said it and not me. [-mrl]

In response to Mark's "Top Ten Films of 2017" in the same issue, John writes:

Of all those Top Ten Movies of 2017 you list, I have not seen a single one. I do, though, want to see THE POST and BLADE RUNNER 2049 (still haven't done so) just because the first simply sounds like a good movie, and the second because I want to personally compare both BLADE RUNNER movies. But the movies I *really* want to see are DARKEST HOUR and THE SHAPE OF WATER. While I was in London last summer during my TAFF trip, I went through the Churchill War Museum with Claire Brialey. Fascinating place, meticulously recreating the conditions and paraphernalia (such as maps, typewriters, communication center, living quarters, etc) of living underground during the Nazi bombing of London. I am a bit of a military history buff, so I found it all quite amazing; in fact, I'd like to see DUNKIRK, too. Lots of good movies these days, and that is definitely good. [-jp]

Mark replies:

I didn't think either THE POST or BLADE RUNNER 2049 was spectacularly good, but each has its moments. It will be good if you can see DUNKIRK and DARKEST HOUR near to each other. I am surprise you did not see the Imperial War Museum, though Evelyn says it is more about WWI. Her memory is better than mine. She is also cuter. [-mrl]

John answers:

Rob Jackson and I did spend time exploring the maritime museums in Portsmouth Harbour in late July--part of the TAFF trip again--which had a lot of photographs, maps, and ship models from WWI. That was a very interesting afternoon, too. [-jp]

In response to Dale Skran's review of ORPHAN BLACK in the same issue, John writes:

As for ORPHAN BLACK, now that series is kaput. No more episodes, but it was definitely a very worthy series to watch. We have the complete run saved on Direct TV. Now we are waiting for WESTWORLD to return. More good stuff awaits. [-jp]

Mark replies:

I have said everyone agrees that not one but the two BEST science fiction programs ever are running right now. But nobody agrees on which two they are. [-mrl]

This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

The first book by Edmund Wilson I read was PATRIOTIC GORE, a study of the literature surrounding the Civil War. Since then, I have read several of his collections, diaries, etc., and nothing has quite lived up to it. LETTERS ON LITERATURE AND POLITICS 1912-1972 by Edmund Wilson (ISBN 0-374-18501-8) is no exception--interesting in parts, but also boring at times. Still, there are some great excerpts.

For example, it is clear that even (or perhaps especially) the intelligentsia did not understand Stalin back in the 1930s:

"And Stalin, however he may want to maintain his power, is certainly a good deal different from Napoleon. Stalin is a convinced Marxist and old Bolshevik; Napoleon cared nothing about the principles of he French Revolution and betrayed it. Also, he had megalomaniac imperialist ambitions which one can hardly imagine Stalin entertaining. Stalin, whatever his limitations, is still working for socialism in Russia." [11 Jan 1935, to John Dos Passos]

Nor did they understand Hitler:

"[Charles Rumford Walker and Adelaide Walker] had been in Russia and Germany since I'd seen them and were very interesting on the subject. They say that they got the impression in Germany that the industrials were now running things more or less openly without paying much attention to Hitler and his friends, on whom they were quietly bringing pressure to pipe down." [31 Jan 1935, to John Dos Passos]

A couple of years later they had a better, though still incomplete, picture:

"[In Russia] the gap between the well-informed and intelligent and the ignorant and dumb is still so great that the latter are always treated like children by the former. IZVESTIA and PRAVDA now-- which are what the ordinary read--haven't a word of news or sense in them. They are as bad as the Nazi papers. The real papers are those of the privileged groups, like the RED ARMY STAR and the GPU bulletin--just as it is only the specially privileged people who are allowed to use the libraries." [15 Apr 1937, to Malcolm Cowley]

And by 1950 Wilson was completely disillusioned:

"When I was writing about Lenin in the FINLAND STATION, I tended to accept the memoirs published in the Soviet Union. I hadn't realized how early the deliberate mythmaking had been begun. Now I am not at all sure that some of my details of his return to Russia were not made up out of the whole cloth for the purposes of a volume of Eulogies, of the authenticity of which I was convinced by the proletarian status of the supposed witnesses, but by which I may well have been taken in. Trotsky, whose first volume of a life of a Lenin is one of the best things on the subject, does not even believe in the memoir published by Lenin's sister, which I decided to accept. ... [It] is always an awful nuisance to try to get at the truth behind conflicting accounts..." [4 Apr 1950, to Arthur Mizener]

One of the most shocking revelations of Wilson's beliefs was:

"From a non-legal point of view, though, the whole discussion of mental responsibility seems rather idle. In my opinion, the great reform needed is a law to authorize the chloroforming of imbeciles and hopeless psychiatric cases. Of course, mistakes would be made, and the people would have to be very carefully checked, but we already put a lot of other matters in the hands of Boards of Health, etc., and it would be better than shutting up such cases in miserable asylums." [17 Jan 1952, to John Biggs]

That Wilson could say this, after all that had come out about the Nazis' "euthanasia" programs, and the long history of governments deciding that certain racial groups, religious groups, socio- economic groups, or political parties were "imbeciles and hopeless psychiatric cases," indicates that he had no concept of history. And while we put lots of matters in the hands of Boards of Health, that does not include killing people on their own say-so. (Has Wilson actually read the Bill of Rights? If so, it does not appear to have sunk in.)

On another topic, Wilson had very use for fantasy. I have previously quoted him on Lovecraft; here he is on Tolkien:

"I am enclosing a review of Tolkien. Do you know his work? I think it is awful." [12 Apr 1856, to James Branch Cabell]

"I have never read THE HOBBIT, but Helen, when she was younger, read it or had it read to her innumerable times, so it must be a good children's story. I can't imagine it in an English course, though." [14 Jan 1966, to Cecelia Carroll]

He also had a strong opinion on Carl Sandburg's biography of Lincoln:

"But in my opinion Carl Sandburg is the worst thing that has happened to Lincoln since Booth shot him, and I can't imagine either Grant or Lee getting through JOHN BROWN'S BODY..." [30 Apr 1953, to John Dos Passos]

Regarding this, when we visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, this year, there was a list of recommended biographies; Carl Sandburg's was not on it.

However, this does not necessarily mean that Sandburg's biography is bad. If I remember correctly, all the recommended biographies were much more recent than Sandburg's, which might indicate either improved research over the years or just a tendency to prefer the new to the old. For example, reading groups seem to emphasize current or recent best sellers over classics dating back fifty years or more.

Wilson's letters, in short, have some interesting passages, but one must pick and choose, because there's a fair amount of uninteresting daily minutiae as well. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          I do not believe in revealed religion--I will have 
          nothing to do with your immortality; we are miserable 
          enough in this life, without speculating on another.

                                          --Lord Byron, 1778-1824

Go to our home page